Friday, February 18, 2011

Customer Service: You're doing it wrong

A short aside - I know the actual meme is "UR doin it wrong" but I can't force myself to type "ur" as a word, even in the pursuit of meme references. Ur was a place, it could possibly be an abbreviation, but it isn't a word. We all clear on that? Good.

Yesterday I was reading the tale of a very angry customer and a company that was so caught up in their own marketing that they decided it was better to alienate their customer than to address the customer's concerns. The company's product had failed the customer and caused her to incur additional expenses on top of what she'd already paid for the product itself. After some difficulty in contacting the company's customer service department, our intrepid customer finally got an answer from the company, an answer which managed to not only not address her issue with the product, but implied that the customer had misused the product, AND included a not-at-all-veiled sales pitch for more of the company's products!

Yeah, because nothing will make a customer feel valued faster than telling them they're too stupid to use the product they've already purchased from you, then trying to shill more stuff at them in the guise of addressing their concerns.

Marketing has its place in a business strategy. That place is not when addressing a customer complaint. But it's happening more and more every day. Here's another example:

A while back, I stopped at a restaurant to have a sandwich. When the sandwich arrived, it was a fatty, greasy, disgusting mess. I didn't have time to send the sandwich back to be remade or to get a different sandwich, so I ate what I could and left the restaurant in high enough dudgeon that I contacted the company and expressed my dissatisfaction with their product. I stated that I did not want the usual "Be Our Guest" free item offer that usually follows these requests, I just wanted to make them aware of the problem so they could fix it. A customer service rep emailed me back, stating that she was sorry that I'd had a bad experience and wanted to offer me the "Be Our Guest" free item anyway. Had she left it that, it would have been an okay transaction. But she didn't leave it at that. She went on to comment that the reason I'd had a bad experience with the sandwich was because I didn't understand or appreciate the richer, higher quality ingredients that they'd sourced just to make this hot mess of a sandwich. Well, maybe I didn't understand the intrinsic wonder of the foodstuffs that made up the disgusting mess that was my sandwich, and maybe I'm just some ill-bred cretin who wouldn't know quality ingredients if they sashayed up and subjected me to a Gordon Ramsey tirade about how goddamn fucking wonderful they are and I'm a donkey's arse to not appreciate them, but I did understand one thing all too well after receiving that email - that I'd gone from a customer with a concern to a customer that was good and pissed off.

How, exactly, did that help the company in keeping me as a customer? What purpose did it serve to inject marketing spin into a conversation that should have focused on turning a customer with a problem into a customer who wants to give your business another shot? It didn't.

When your customer contacts you with a problem, you get one chance to make it right. Sometimes you're lucky if you have that. Why ruin the chance you have? How hard is it to say "I'm sorry you did not have a good experience with my product. What can I do to make it right?" You may never be able to make it completely right, and sometimes the customer isn't going to be satisfied no matter what you do, but the point to the whole exercise is to turn a customer with a problem into a satisfied customer who wants to come back to you. You're not going to do that by patronizing them, shilling to them, or ignoring the problem they brought you in the first place.


  1. Amen. Some places get it right even when they don't shower you with free crap, others just suck.

    A couple months ago I signed up for a webinar with at title that promised good information on how to solve certain problems. Instead it was a 45 minute commercial for very expensive software that tangentially might have had something to do with the subject.

    I left early and filled out their survey with a polite but scathing response about wasting my time with fraudulent advertising. I got a response back that sounded like a petulant 15 year old defending his favorite band, complete with a 'fine we'll just take you OFF our MAILING LIST" at the end of the diatribe.

    Is it so hard to say "thank you for your feedback, we try hard but we seem to have disappointed you, we'll try to be better in the future" even if you don't mean it?

  2. Great post!! I totally agree with you on customer service! It's one thing I try so hard to be great at with my online shop - some places just don't realize the effect of "word of mouth".


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